Monday, May 2, 2005 Editorial Hardly 'foolproof' Romney should withdraw death penalty bill Gov. Mitt Romney says his latest death penalty bill, filed last week, provides a "no-doubt" standard of proof that would assure that only the truly guilty are executed. While such safeguards might make the return of executions to Massachusetts more palatable to some, the Romney bill - like earlier attempts to craft a "foolproof" death penalty law - falls well short of the mark. Indeed, as one critic aptly put it, Massachusetts already has a truly foolproof system to ensure that the state does not execute an innocent person: no death penalty. Certainly, DNA matching and other scientific methods are powerful investigative tools, but the human element can never be eliminated from the system. The possibility of error, mishandling of evidence, tampering and the like always will exist. The Romney bill calls for a mandatory review of capital prosecutions. How that improves on the multiple levels of appeals that exist is unclear. Anyway, such oversight cannot guarantee a truly unbiased, mistake-free system. The bill also would limit capital punishment to a handful of "worst of the worst" crimes, including murders committed as acts of political terrorism; the murder of a law enforcement officer, judge, juror, prosecutor, lawyer or a witness, as a means of obstructing an ongoing criminal prosecution; and first-degree murders involving prolonged torture or a murder spree with multiple victims. Evoking such horrors plays well politically, no doubt. But why are those crimes more heinous than, say, the coldblooded murder of a clerk during a robbery or the rape and strangulation of a woman? The bill establishes a hierarchy of the value of life that is arbitrary at best. The quest for a foolproof system misses the most compelling reason why the death penalty should not be reinstated in Massachusetts: Punishing a killing with a state-sanctioned killing is, simply, ethically and morally wrong. It is true that some criminal acts are so atrocious that they demand the permanent removal of the perpetrator from society. A sentence of life without chance of parole fills that requirement. Capital punishment, with its risk of irreparable harm, is dreadful public policy. We urge Mr. Romney to drop his death penalty campaign.